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These Cedar Rapids teachers are calling for online-only classes to start school year
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These Cedar Rapids teachers are calling for online-only classes to start school year

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Pressley Mochal, 6, who goes to Viola Gibson Elementary School, holds up a sign she made before departing the Cedar Rapids School District offices on Edgewood Road in Cedar Rapids on Friday, July 24, 2020. Teachers from around the state planned to demonstrate in Des Moines in favor of a more conservative approach to reopening schools this fall.

CEDAR RAPIDS — Kennedy High School Spanish teacher Jennifer Neilly wants the Cedar Rapids Community School District to start the academic year virtually to avoid exposing students, their families and teachers to the coronavirus.

That option, however, may have been taken away from the district when Gov. Kim Reynolds made a proclamation last week requiring over 50% of core subjects be offered in school buildings.

Neilly was one of a dozen teachers who drove in a caravan from Cedar Rapids to Des Moines to join a demonstration called “Drive for Lives” advocating for a safe return to schools and asking the governor to rescind her proclamation and allow local school leaders to make their own return to learn decisions.

“I know the school district has a draft plan and one is 100% online (learning),” Neilly said. “I feel strongly this is the safest option. I don’t know how easily it will be to stay 6 feet apart in a classroom.”

Organizers of Drive for Lives stand for four goals:

1. Supporting school districts working to develop return to learn plans in conjunction with advice from public health experts;

2. Rescind of Reynold’s proclamation on July 17, which mandates face to face learning;

3. School districts to develop safe plans for return to learn based on current data on the spread of COVID-19;

4. And for concerned students, parents, teachers, district leaders, and other government officials to work together to protect students and their communities.

Participants in Drive for Lives were asked to stay in their vehicles during the demonstration, which started from East High School in Des Moines Friday at 1 p.m.

Educators and allies decorated their cars.

On Neilly’s car was written in car paint: “CRCSD start the year online.”

On another vehicle that left from Cedar Rapids on Friday, it was written: “Superintendent (Noreen) Bush, make the virtual push.”

Neilly’s two children, 9 and 6 years old who attend school in the Cedar Rapids district, road along with her to the demonstration Friday.

Neilly is planning on enrolling them in virtual learning this fall if her husband, who is also employed by the school district, is able to work from home even as she goes back to teaching in-person.

“We would prefer to have them learn remotely, leaving the schools to be open to support families with more critical (in-person learning) needs,” Neilly said.

Rhonda Michells, a teacher at Harding Middle School who caravaner to the demonstration Friday, brought her boyfriend’s daughter with her, who is a 4th Grader in the district.

Michells, who has taught in the district for over 30 years, said she does not feel safe going back to the classroom.

“I want to be back in the classroom,” Michells said, adding that she would like to see data first such as how many positive cases of the coronavirus would cause a school to close.

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